There are two things you, dear booknerds, should have gathered about me if you listen to our late-night podcast: one, I’m a lover of all things fantasy and two, queer books are my absolute faves. But Reign of the Fallen fell short of my expectations despite being an awesome queer necromancer fantasy.
Odessa is one of Karthia’s master necromancers, catering to the kingdom’s ruling Dead. Whenever a noble dies, it’s Odessa’s job to raise them by retrieving their souls from a dreamy and dangerous shadow world called the Deadlands. But there is a cost to being raised–the Dead must remain shrouded, or risk transforming into zombie-like monsters known as Shades. If even a hint of flesh is exposed, the grotesque transformation will begin.
A dramatic uptick in Shade attacks raises suspicions and fears among Odessa’s necromancer community. Soon a crushing loss of one of their own reveals a disturbing conspiracy: someone is intentionally creating Shades by tearing shrouds from the Dead–and training them to attack. Odessa is faced with a terrifying question: What if her necromancer’s magic is the weapon that brings Karthia to its knees?
The concept alone (and also the sparkly cover. I’m a sucker for sparkly covers) made me request it immediately when it was available on Netgalley. That and I follow Sarah Glenn Marsh on Twitter and she’s mentioned how it was a story about queer girls.
I was hyped. I was ready.
I ended up a little disappointed.
I want to establish how much I loved the concept. The concept was the coolest thing ever. I loved the idea of necromancers working for good, doing their best to keep the dead “alive”. I loved a kingdom that’s had the same king for hundreds of years, a king that outlawed change.
But nothing felt right when I read the book. Maybe it wasn’t for me, that happens. I felt the execution needed work. Few scenes felt tense, and the ones that did were immediately rectified by having the tension swept away. At one point, the main character sacrifices herself to kill a Shade–the undead monsters–by pulling it into a raging bonfire, since fire is one of two ways to kill the Shades.
That’s such a good moment! The main character sacrificing herself, her health, to save the people around her! She’s pulled out of the fire, horribly burned, and I just knew that was going to be a huge tension point for the entire book! She’s burned! She’s hurt, but she’s supposed to be the kingdom’s best necromancer, how will she defend everyone from Shades when she… oh… a healer came up. Okay, sure, he’ll take away the worst of the pain but she’ll still be worse off because of her rash actions… Oh. She’s 100% healed, good as new, like nothing happened. Well. Shit.
That, I think, was the worst that can happen in a story. Characters fall to ruin from their own actions but never feel the lasting consequences. Yes, they spend half a page thinking they’re going to die from the burning, but then by the next page they’re perfectly okay thanks to a healer’s magic and they learn nothing. I wanted to see characters suffer from their own misguided actions and become better for it–that’s how character development works! But it never happened within Reign of the Fallen and it sucked all the fun out of the book for me.
I have to give this one three stars for stellar concept, a pretty cover, lots of queers and badass ladies, a deep look into addiction and grief, and getting me to at least finish the book instead of DNF’ing it. Unfortunately, this won’t be one I’ll be revisiting or picking up a sequel to. Though I’ve seen lots of other people love it, so perhaps it just wasn’t my cup of tea.